Poor too can do philanthropy

Published Oct 3, 2018, 12:30 am IST
Updated Oct 3, 2018, 12:39 am IST
Amit Chandra who believes in bottom-up approach says Independence was won by the poor.
Managing Director of Bain Capital Amit Chandra (right) interacts with Trustee Manthan Foundation Ajay Gandhi at Manthan Samvaad in Shilpakala Vedika on Tuesday.
 Managing Director of Bain Capital Amit Chandra (right) interacts with Trustee Manthan Foundation Ajay Gandhi at Manthan Samvaad in Shilpakala Vedika on Tuesday.

Hyderabad: In conversation with Ajay Gandhi, Trustee Manthan Foundation at the Manthan Samvaad held at Shilpakala Vedika on October 2, Amit Chandra, Managing Director of Bain Capital, chose to speak on how Indians can build India.

When Amit Chandra returned from the US as a young grad he had two goals: Become a crorepati and run a major company by the age of 40. 


When he achieved this well in advance, in his early 30s, he had not only amassed wealth but also learned institutional building skills and built a wide network of wealthy contacts. 

However, this also came with a sense of emptiness and it was in the quest to fill this void that he found himself increasingly spending his time and money on social work. In his own ‘selfishness’ in figuring out how to become more happy and purposeful, he found the mantra of ‘giving while living’.

“Why don’t I spend the skills and networks I am blessed with to solve the problems of people at large instead of simply making other people rich?” 

He and his wife, whom he refers to as a well-balanced person, decided to cap their standard of living and use the rest of their income for a greater cause.

Inspired by Guru Nanak and the Duty Free Shopper (DFS) founder Chuck Feeney’s philosophy of Giving by Living, he redefined his goals. His role model, Chuck Feeney, gave away all his wealth, nearly $8 billion, anonymously.

Amit Chandra has come a long way in his journey of giving while living. He spends his time between being an investment banker and a philanthropist. He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2007 and figured in Forbes’ Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy list in 2016, along with his wife Archana. 

He is a Trustee of the Tata Trusts, a Founder/Board Member of Ashoka University, a Board Member of Give India (India’s leading philanthropic exchange) and The Akanksha Foundation. 

In response to a question on why Indians find it difficult to give, Mr Chandra said that the West is more connected to society than India is. Everyone there feels a sense of responsibility to society. Many of them share a bond with society and one that is stronger than with their own children.

“Indians lack this connect with society but have an ‘overconnect’ with our children. Wealth beyond a point actually spoils them. Wealth most often creates discord and conflict and gets dissipated before the second or third generation. The kids’ sense of entitlement and expectation is high.”

Amit Chandra believes that philanthropy is not necessarily for the rich alone but anyone who wants to give time. He contends that even a single individual can do a lot. Many people think that only the rich can do philanthropy. He believes that the bottom-up approach is the best approach, citing our Independence movement which was initiated and won by the poor of India and not the rich. 

He feels that a bottom-up movement, where each person contributes something as opposed to a few rich people, would mean that we can achieve a lot more. 

Working in partnership with the government and the farmers in Maharashtra to solve the problem of drought, he observed that the bulk of the contributions came from the farmers who were after all the beneficiaries. 

Bringing about this change was the poorest person and not the state or the rich philanthropist.

“The biggest NGO is the government,” he continued, but pointed out that a lot of social services are not working and there in no connect between social services and society.

He urged NGOs to learn to scale. To achieve this, the quality of leadership is important where we must continuously upgrade the skills of the leadership team. “Where are the IIMs for the NGOs?” he asks.  

Culture, Process and Measurability are the three other aspects that NGOs must work on. His mentor taught him the most important lesson: “Always hire people who are smarter than you and empower them. That is the only way to scale.”

Amit Chandra believes “poverty is man-made and the world has enough resources to solve it”. 

He blamed the poor social delivery mechanisms where resources have gone to the top and the middle but not to the bottom where 200-300 million suffer. 

As a product of the market himself, he feels that though it has grown India’s GDP per capita by five times in dollar terms and life expectancy has doubled since Independence, where it failed is in disparity, as the difference between the rich and the poor widened by 30 times, something never seen before. 

He strongly advocates movements like Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) and feels it has the potential of lifting millions out of poverty and tripling the income of millions of farmers in three years. 

“Why are the best brains not solving these kinds of problems? How many of us can name the agriculture minister of the country or their state?” he asked.

Amit Chandra seems to urge us to join the joy of giving almost as if it is urgent.

Like his hero Chuck Feeney would have said, “Make a difference now. What are you waiting for?”

The writer is founder and CEO of Y-AXIS.

Location: India, Telangana, Hyderabad